Chiara earns residency at NYC's Met Museum

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Chiara earns residency at NYC’s Met Museum

The Chiara String Quartet
The Chiara String Quartet

The Chiara String Quartet is the Quartet-in-Residence this year at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The residency consists of four concerts throughout the course of the season.

“We’ve played in New York from time to time,” said Jonah Sirota, a research associate professor and Chiara viola player. “But this is definitely the most high profile thing we have done there recently.”

The residency will differ from the one the group has at UNL.

“Artists in residence can mean so many different things,” Sirota said. “Here at UNL, we are Hixson-Lied Artists in Residence, and that means we teach in the Glenn Korff School of Music, have a few private students, run the chamber music program, give a performance series of four concerts a year and teach in the summer Chamber Music Institute. It’s a very extensive residency.

At the Met museum, calling us artists-in-residence means they want us to come and do more than one concert this year, which is great.”

The Met began pursuing the Chiara for their residency in the summer of 2014.

“They had been interested in the work we had been doing, with the ‘Playing by Heart’ series and some of our repertoire projects and commissions,” Sirota said. “It’s a great honor to be called their resident quartet for the year.”

Now in its 16th season overall, the Chiara Quartet has been in residence at UNL since 2004. In addition to Sirota, the quartet includes Rebecca Fischer and Hyeyung Julie Yoon on violins, and Gregory Beaver, playing cello.

The Chiara is recording “Bartók by Heart,” a two-CD set featuring Bartók’s six string quartets, all played entirely from memory. The recording is set for release in 2016 on Azica.

The quartet’s first Met concert in October featured their “Brahms by Heart” program. Their second concert in November, featured piano quintets with Pianist Simone Sinnerstein, including Brahms’ “Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34” and Jefferson Friedman’s Piano Quintet “The Heart Wakes Into.”

This spring, they will perform the program “Bartók and Frank” in March, featuring works by Bartók and composer Gabriela Lena Frank. They will also perform “Death and the Maiden,” featuring works by Ludwig von Beethoven and Franz Schubert in May.

“Limor Tomer, who runs the lectures and concerts at the Met Museum is a very creative, dynamic programmer,” Sirota said. “She is interested in the way the different art forms can interact. We had the chance to look at the collection and spend some time thinking about connections.”

For example, for their Brahms by Heart project, the Chiara did a smaller performance in a 19th century gilded-era, Hungarian-influenced space, which had some connection to the era in which the music was written.

The Met is also interested in curating music.

“For the concert we are doing in March, we will be doing music by Gabriela Lena Frank,” Sirota said. “She is creating some new transcriptions of Hungarian music by Bartók that were originally written for piano and turning them into string quartet music.”

Sirota said her work as a composer followed a similar trajectory to Bartók.

“She studied folk music of South America and unearthed some rare folk music and then decided to write her own music that had either influence of that music or was attempting to be in the same kind of sound world,” he said. “And that’s kind of what Bartók did.”

Sirota said one of the most fun parts of the residency has been having the opportunity to be at the Met after hours.

“On the couple of occasions when we’ve had performances in different venues than just the main concert hall there, being inside the Met Museum after it closes at night is so cool,” Sirota said. “There are guards around, of course. But it’s cool walking around these galleries feeling like you’re just alone with the art. There’s this children’s book called ‘From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’ [which featured Claudia Kincaid and her younger brother, Jamie, running away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art]. So I feel like I’m that kid living after hours in the Met Museum.”

Another project the Chiara has undertaken this semester was to visit every high school in Lincoln.

“We’ve taken the service and community-engagement piece of our work very seriously ever since we’ve been here,” Sirota said. “This semester, one of the things that has been exciting to watch as we’ve built the chamber music program at UNL has been the increased interest in learning how to perform and communicate to any kind of audience from the student body.”

To meet that interest, Fischer spearheaded the effort to build a curriculum around how to both play chamber music brilliantly, but to share it and help audiences become engaged with this music.

“As a part of this, we want to be giving examples of our own work in that regard,” Sirota said. “So this year we wanted to connect with all the music students in the high schools in Lincoln. It’s just great to get out there and meet those kids.”

At their next Hixson-Lied Concert on Jan. 29 in Kimball Hall, the Chiara will present “The Adolf Busch Legacy,” featuring Busch’s Quintet for Saxophone and String Quartet. They will be joined by associate professor of saxophone Paul Haar.

“Paul Haar brought us this piece by Adolph Busch. It’s a quintet for saxophone and string quartet,” Sirota said. “We were interested in the piece and interested in playing with Paul, so it was a no brainer. But then we started realizing this music we’ve been playing for years and years, these Beethoven Quartets, that Adolph Busch was absolutely instrumental in bringing these late Beethoven Quartets to American audiences, when he came over from Europe and helped found the Marlboro Festival [Vt.]. So there’s this wonderful connection between him and Beethoven in the U.S. That’s a really exciting story to be able to tell.”

Their other highlight next spring will be playing for the first time in Shriver Hall in Baltimore in April, as well as a day of teaching at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.

”We’re really looking forward to that,” Sirota said.

Sirota said Lincoln has been a wonderful place for the Chiara to call home for the past 11 years.

“We’ve all been able to raise families here,” he said. “It’s been fun to watch Lincoln grow. Over the time we’ve been here, Lincoln has really taken very seriously the charge to try to be a more engaging place for people to be and for people to connect. You see so much more entrepreneurial ventures taking off here, and we’re seeing young graduates want to live here. There are more places to go and to eat. I’ve seen the arts take on an increased significance since the time we’ve been here. I really see people claiming the Lied Center, Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra, the Glenn Korff School of Music. It’s an exciting time, and it’s exciting to think about how it might look 25 or 50 years down the road.”

To view more photos from the Chiara String Quartet’s visit to Lincoln Northeast High School on Dec. 2, go to

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